I’m sure I wasn’t the only person around here who didn’t expect to be talking about U of L and bowl games and Big East championship after Thanksgiving. It was a doomsday scenario in Charlie Strong’s world after losses to Florida International and Marshall, and skeptics like me were wondering who, on the Big East schedule, the Cards were likely to beat.
That this bunch won 5 of 7 Big East games and, with some help from Connecticut, could be spending New Year’s preparing for the Orange Bowl in Miami, well, that’s downright amazing. Almost as amazing as the fact that if you go to Western Kentucky’s sports web site, the first thing displayed is a list of potential bowl sites and an order form for tickets. WKU’s 7-1 Sun Belt record, after ending a school-record losing streak, was impossible to anticipate, even with one of the nation’s top running backs in Bobby Rainey. I just wish the Hilltoppers could have won that early season game against UK. At 8-3 overall, the ‘Toppers would be a bigger attraction for bowl scouts.
And I gotta mention the end of the streak against Tennessee, or what should forever be known as the game that saved Joker Phillips. It gave UK football fans something to celebrate, and they did — so much so that that the school received a ton of criticism for rushing the field as if they hadn’t just improved their record to 1-26 against the Vols. I was there, in Knoxville, in 1984 when UK surprised UT on a cold November day in Neyland Stadium, not guessing that it would be 26 years before it happened again.
Now, on to the bowl scenarios for U of L and Western. Of course, if Connecticut can squeeze out an upset against Cincinnati on Saturday, Card fans can make their reservations for Miami. But the Bearcats are 17-point favorites. For the Orange Bowl, Cincinnati needs to win AND for West Virginia to lose to South Florida; and West Virginia needs to win AND have Cincinnati win, then finish as the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings. At least that’s what the Big East Blog on ESPN says.
Let’s say the Cards end up second after Cincy wins. The next Big East bowl is the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, but don’t get your hopes up. That bowl is likely to take Notre Dame instead of a Big East team, a privilege its contract allows once every four years. Next on the list is the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. CBS has the Cards there, facing North Carolina State. Other possibiltiies are the Pinstripe Bowl in New York (CBS: Rugers vs Missouri) and then there’s Birmingham’s BBVA Compass, which is more likely to get Cincinnati or West Virginia.
Confused? We won’t know the answers til Saturday’s games are done.
Look at this — according to CBSSports.com, the BBVA Compass Bowl in Orlando could feature Cincinnati against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers would fill a spot reserved for the SEC, but because the league doesn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams, it will have to go looking for an at-large school. And guess why the SEC doesn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams? That’s right, because UK knocked Tennessee out of contention when it ended the “Streak” last Saturday.
There’s another twist to that story, and one that makes it possible for Western to be shut out. The Sun Belt champ, Arkansas State, is going to the GoDaddy Bowl in Birmingham. The New Orleans Bowl is taking nearby Louisiana Lafayette, with a 9-3 record but a game behind WKU in the Sun Belt standings. Western, despite its second-palce league finish, is left looking for an at-large bid, while 3rd-place Lafaeytte is set.
Still, WKU comes out ahead if it gets the BBVA Compass. According to its web site, the Toppers anticipate having a shot at seven different bowl games.